When a small group of area entrepreneurs began working with the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation to fund an annual Big Idea competition and then raised $50,000 from local businesses to pay out an annual prize, we’d say Ralph Di Febo’s mini-Ravinia concept for Forest Park was just about the perfect big idea.

Di Febo is the visionary Forest Parker who has been building a plan to convert the village-owned Altenheim property into a music and park venue. He has painstakingly built support for the grand idea, including just over the past months the backing of Mayor Anthony Calderone. Calderone is himself the visionary who saved this undeveloped 11-acre parcel from development when he led its purchase by the village more than a decade ago.

Last year, in the first ever Big Idea competition, Di Febo’s music venue won an Honorable Mention from the Community Foundation. This year Di Febo has ramped up his application with an endorsement from Calderone and a new affiliation with the Forest Park Historical Society which solves a nonprofit tax status dilemma.

The competition will be intense. After all, $50,000 in seed money is hard to come by. The Review and Wednesday Journal, our sister publication, are proudly among the core of financial backers of the Big Idea. The application deadline was in November. Finalists are currently being winnowed. And a handful of great, good and transformative ideas will be presented to judges at a captivating live show in February at Wire in Berwyn.

One entity, perhaps Ralph’s, will end that evening with $50,000. That would be a good start on engineering and architectural studies to convert a vision, a big idea, into a grand reality.

Architects and education

In a lot of newspaper editorials, including ours, you’ll read exhortations that school boards need to spend more time focusing on children and education. It’s a fair point. But we’d add they should focus on educating kids when they’re done focusing on hiring the right law firm and the right architectural firm.

That’s because in a lot of school districts that have been colonized by politicians, and the Proviso Township high schools are historically a sickening example of such a takeover, a lot of the shenanigans and a lot of the political grease flows through a handful of connected law firms and architectural firms. 

Right now, the divided District 209 board is working to find a fair and a purposeful method of hiring new architects. The divide is, as always, between the reformers and the politically connected on the board.

All of this makes more critical than ever the candidate slates which will be revealed in the next two weeks for the April election. This election will determine the future of our high school district.

What a Walk

Thanks to the Chamber of Commerce for another lovely and fun Holiday Walk. Madison Street looked its very Christmas best from the wonderful decorations — thanks, village and McAdam Landscaping — to the many “live window” displays.

The Review staff had a blast in our takeover of the Grand Appliances windows for our Charlie Brown Christmas.